Category Archives: Classroom Culture

One Concept That Makes Me a Better Teacher: Tempo

Earlier in the Spring I spent a Saturday morning at the new football stadium in Katy, Texas listening to football coaches speak about various aspects of the sport.  That’s right, in January, high school football coaches get together to talk football… for fun.

The speakers presented their philosophies of offense or defense and talked about schemes and personnel.  I loved how, universally, they were: bright, confident, and eager to share their knowledge.

Just like with teachers, collaboration helps grow the profession. Coaches know the importance of sharing insight.  Its something I love and appreciate about the profession.

One speaker, from a school down here by us, presented on the topic of “Tempo.”

Tempo is the offenses ability to change how fast or how slow they snap the football.  In layman’s terms, its a way for an offense to give themselves an advantage over the defense and can be brutally effective when used to full effect.  Often times, tempo can dictate who is going to win or lose a contest.

The same can be true in our classrooms.

Often times, I find myself racing along, pushing the students through this concept or that; when necessary circling back around to re-teach when needed or tie-in an idea that supports our current work. I like to think of workshop pedagogy as weaving a tapestry made of many different threads of many different types and colors.  Sometimes we pull in this string or that one.  Whichever combination of threads that most effectively addresses our students’ needs.

I’m continuously amazed at how well the students facilitate this complexity in their learning.

Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher talked about their process in ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>this amazing podcast. They explain it far better than I ever could.

Momentum

I am a big believer in using momentum in my instruction.  When the students see success in their literacy, I want to capitalize on those feelings of success by moving on to the next idea quickly. Any lull or pause in our movement forward is an opportunity to stop and lose focus. I don’t like “catch up days.”  Every day, in my mind, we should move our literacy forward.

Tempo

What I don’t do often enough, is take a deep breath and slow down.  I’ve found, this year, that I don’t take time to do the “fun” workshop activities. I’m talking about activities that build morale and allow the kids to laugh and, dare I say it…. play.

When they get to approach an activity as “play,” they can find success they haven’t found before:

Or they might find a fun way to learn its okay to come up a little short:

Either way, they are engaged in facilitating their own growth!!!

The assessments I’ve asked them to complete show me so many gaps in their skill sets that I can’t ever find enough time to address them all. But being hard-headed and driving forward without ever taking a moment to relax, we miss out on some of the fun that workshop can facilitate.

I have quantitative data that shows my students are reading and writing more than my previous senior classes and I have the anecdotal information they share with me about reading and writing more than any previous year in their education.  This is important to consider and it is valuable data to analyze as I work towards the end of this year and start thinking about next year.

The data tells me something else.  My students are burned out.  They are done; not just with their writing and reading, but with their thinking. Maybe I moved them too fast through our work in the fall and early spring.  Maybe the world they exist in is so far removed from the one I experienced at that age, that I have no real understanding of their stress levels.

I have to ask myself, what am I trying to accomplish and can I get that done operating the way I operate right now.

“Tempo,” I tell myself, “slow down.”

I have to do a better job keeping our tempo in mind as we finish out their high school education.

I’ll mix in more Poet Moments.  I’ll take more time to let them explore their own voices through narrative work that isn’t for a grade and is for fun.  I’ll change the mode from individual drafting of language to more group feedback. Generally, I’ll ratchet down the intensity of our work and lighten up on the speed with which we attack it.

What are some of the “fun” workshop activities that I can mix into my lesson plans that still hold value and have rigor?

Charles Moore is currently reading Before We Were Yours and The Glass Sword. He spends his newly freed up afternoons waiting to get his kids off the bus and tending to his beloved pool.  He just completed the GRE and hopes to start graduate school in the fall at U of H. One more thing, he recently took his Student Council class to a ropes course leadership facility and it was one of the best days of his teaching career.  Two of the many videos he took are included in this post.

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Champions Finish Strong

pexels-photo-332835.jpeg

About this time, every year, I begin to feel that itch, that urge to chuck everything I’m working on right now and start planning for next year. Maybe it’s the feeling of spring in the air, but I always find myself frustrated with how I spent my time this year and wanting to start fresh and clean for next year. So, as I move into test review mode, I begin my wish list for this year and vow to do better in August. It goes something like this:

     I wish that I had conferenced more…next year I’ll conference and here’s how…

     I wish that I had done a better job with writer’s notebooks…next year those notebooks are going to be cute and organized and here’s how…

     I wish that I had frontloaded this idea more in August….next year I’m going to frontload so hard and here’s how…

     I wish that I had taught this title instead or offered more choice here…next year I’m going to revamp every lesson plan and here’s how…

I think it’s pretty easy to recognize the “I wish” road as a treacherous one to travel down. But, honestly, for me, that urge to start planning for next year in the middle of this year is the real danger.

See, all of the end of the year countdown clocks act as siren songs, pulling me into the excitement of planning for a new school year: new pens (because they help me plan better), PD books (I’m starting with 180 Days), Google Folders (because I’m nerd, this will never not make me happy). I’m getting antsy just thinking about it.

And so I find myself eased into bright, happy, shiny thoughts about how perfect next year will be. I look forward to the excitement of a brand new group of students, of a summer spent immersing myself in practice, of all of the hope a new year of school brings.

And I know these are dangerous waters. I also coach volleyball, and, in that context, I would immediately recognize this behavior as problematic. Whenever my team thinks about Tuesday night’s game before Monday night’s game, we have a rough night. We can’t think about the district tournament in October until we’ve handled August. I would put a clamp on that kind of thinking right away on the court. And so, I’m realizing I also have to lock down my mid-April urges to plan for next year.

Why?

Because, in a nutshell, champions finish the way they start.

I think we have to approach the end of the year the same way we started it – fired up, focused on the tasks at hand, bringing that same excitement and hope and enthusiasm to each LONG day of testing and test prep. Don’t our students sitting in our classrooms right now deserve that? Don’t they deserve to know that we’re happy to see them each day they enter our classrooms, not counting down the days until they leave? Don’t they deserve more than filler? Don’t we deserve to be present in the moment, enjoying where we are right now in our journeys together?

But what is there to be excited for during testing season?

Great question. I teach in TN – testing has been… rough… this week.

However,  I’m particularly excited about three activities between here and our AP Lang and Comp test. These are pretty common activities among AP Language teachers, so I’m not presenting anything new here or even my own ideas (good teaching is good stealing according to Harry Wong), but sharing some ideas that have worked for me. They are tried and true ways to keep students involved, interested and invested on this downhill dash to the test:

1. Rhetorical analysis – Role playing. We’re currently role playing as Abigail Adams writing a letter to her son John Quincy. Students pair up (one is Abby, the other is a dear friend there to offer advice) and craft a letter to her son, encouraging him to take advantages of all of his opportunities. Then we read and analyze her actual letter to him. This is a pretty common AP lesson, but it’s new to this class. The simple act of role playing really deepened our discussion of rhetorical analysis and provided lots of AHA moments along the lines of “You’re right! She DIDN’T sit down and think ‘I need four rhetorical questions and one use of asyndeton. She thought about her large and small goals and worked from there!’” Students left with a better understanding of what to notice in a RA and how to organize their essay around ideas instead of devices. Surprisingly, these letters also showcased an almost aggressive level of voice. It was productive and fun – the perfect way to spend a test prep day.

Here are some examples culled from today’s writings.

 

  1. Synthesis – Pinwheel discussion. Again, more role playing. Students jigsaw a few short texts related to a topic and then come to a center table to discuss a single question in front of the whole class. They are encouraged to identify the attitude of the author and then converse with that attitude as that author. Unsurprisingly, they really get into it. The activity has them intentionally synthesizing  multiple perspectives on the fly and on their own in front of an authentic audience, reinforcing the idea of synthesis as conversation and elaboration.

3. Argument  – Speed dating. Five to six thought-provoking prompts are posted on the board one at a time. Students have four or five minutes to brainstorm claims, evidence, organizational structures and a theses. We whip around the room, sharing insights and approaches, curating a list of universal nouns or excellent pieces of evidence, creating ideas that students can tuck away in their back pockets before the test. I love this activity. There’s such great community in the sharing of ideas while also mimicking the time crunch of the written portion of the test.

Hopefully, none of the ideas feel like test prep. Hopefully, it’s just more learning. Hopefully, we find ourselves excited to be in English, fully present in the moment, enjoying our productive time together. The thoughts and ideas for next year can percolate until the end of May.

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She plans on watching two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Friday’s Film as Lit lesson. She realizes how very lucky she is that this falls under the category of  “Something She Gets To Do At Her Job For Money!!!!” She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.

Story Generates Story, and More

This past weekend, Tom Newkirk tweeted about writiNewkirk Self-Promptsng fluency and the value of “self-prompting,” and he included a list of a dozen+ prompts that foster such fluency. For Tom, these prompts “swirl in his head” as he writes. For our students, we need to build the habit of prompting questions into their process. Whether through daily writing, regular conferring, or sheer faith in the possibility, many students this year have discovered the true generative nature of writing — a sentence begets a sentence, begets a sentence, and so on. Alas, too many have not.

Our students hear from published poets and slam poetry veterans (our school librarians put on a magnificent Poetry Week every year) about lengthy revision processes. They view interviews with their favorite authors who explain the grueling evolution from idea to draft to revision to “finished” piece. They read lots of writers on writing about the toil of the work. Still, more students than I care to admit still believe in some divine inspiration behind the magic of words on a page, which one either receives or does not. And, to try to write without this inspiration (as in, every day in their Writer’s Notebooks) is a futile endeavor.

Tom’s recent tweet seemed divine in its timing. The day before, as an in-school field strip, 10th-grade English classes participated in a workshop with storytellers from Chicago’s 2nd Sstory_line_awk-e1523848925727.jpgtory, an organization that holds storytelling events, workshops, and education in the value of story — in both the telling and the listening — as the source of human connection. The name 2nd Story refers to the very nature of story as generative: one shares a story of their own experience, which inevitably reflects some aspect of the universal, and then invites others to do the same.

Presenters shared their own stories, which included universals such as losing our youthful belief in things magical, facing our greatest fears and living story_line_rightto tell, proving we’re capable of what others believe we are not. Then they got students up out of their seats in parallel lines or inside-outside circles, so humans faced other humans, screen-free. First, students shared one-sentence stories based on prompts like “I felt [insert emotion] when …” or “Tell about a time when you … broke or ruined something … told a lie … received a gift you really wanted (or not) …” Lines and circles shifted and rotated to maximize the quantity of faces in contact.

Sure, it was awkward and scary at first for many — if not most — of these 15- and 16-year-olds, who may or may not have met before. Gradually, though, as stories even as brief as one sentence were shared, it became less so.

In one of the two workshop rooms, students talked in pairs, sharing their stories by kelly_empathyjpg.jpgelaborating on one of the prompts from the first part of the exercise. I could hear the energy in the room even before I was fully in the door. Moving through pairs of students, I could hardly hear the stories themselves, but no matter. story_lean-in.jpgWhat mattered was that students were hearing them from their partners, many of whom started out as strangers (different classes were blended into one workshop). And not just hearing, but listening. They began, literally, to lean in, closing distances through shared stories and the natural empathy that results. When we return to our regular classrooms this week, students will begin recording their stories on FlipGrid, listening to and commenting on one another’s without the high stakes and vulnerability (even unfamiliarity) of face-to-face, real-time human interaction. Which reminds me …

story_engagement.jpgI’d like to pause briefly to offer this qualifier: On-demand, face-to-face, forced interaction with strangers is not every 10th grader’s cuppa tea. (Heck, it’s not every adult’s cuppa, either.) In fact, several students literally waited it out on the sidelines. But even these reticent, reluctant, and even recalcitrant folks couldn’t help but listen — and be drawn into — the stories of others. And maybe even, as a result, classmates who were still strangers became less “other” than they had been 90 minutes earlier. I’m even holding onto the possibility that the stories heard that day will sustain their generative power and elicit even more — not only more stories, but more listening, more “leaning in,” more empathy, even more inspiration: not from any divine spirit, but from engagement with each other and with the work of writing — and speaking — their truth.

Formative Assessment Works!!!

For those of you who haven’t taught Seniors, trust me on this:  Formative assessment during the second semester is challenging.

If you’ve taught seniors, then you might understand where I’m coming from:  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they aren’t grasping a concept, or they are just too tired of school to have the energy to engage.

I hurts my heart to even consider that my precious learners are worried about bigger issues than Comparative Literary Analysis essays or finding examples of bias in their self-selected texts.  Prom looms five days away and graduation seven weeks after that.  They work, they compete in extra curriculars, they deal with the adults and peers in their lives.  I forget, sometimes, that their plates are filled with important thoughts.  I remind myself I’m not doing their stress levels any favors by point out that we still have important work to do before June 2nd.

Last Monday we reviewed an excerpt from Niel Schusterman’s Thunderhead as a mentor text for practicing literary analysis through all the lenses that should be crystal clear to these literate learners.  I needed to assess their understanding and thinking so that I could make decisions about the instruction leading up to the summative assessment.  That’s the point of formative assessment; to “form” a plan for instruction.

I read the short selection with them, and asked them if they would, please, mark their thinking on this first lap through the text.  They should, as they’ve done many times before, underline or highlight what they noticed about the words the author chose through the lenses of diction, bias, author’s purpose…literally anything they noticed within the realm of literary analysis. It’s the last nine weeks of their public education career. They should be able to look at a text through a variety of lenses.

Some of them made some marks on the page while others wrote notes next to highlighted lines or words.  Others, though, marked nothing.  [Alarms wiggle and stir in my head. Something’s not right.]

I asked them to share within their groups what they noticed.  Muted whispers of ethos, tone, and metaphor struggled out of some groups, but again, most said very little.  Very few connections were being made. For them and for me, the picture was as clear as mud. This, by itself, is important formative assessment. This wasn’t working. [Def Con 55- Full tilt klaxons at maximum volume!]

Yet, I refuse to blame them.  I fully believe that it is solely on me, the teacher, to facilitate engagement with the text.  Somehow I need to do a better job inviting them to take all those useful tools out of their tool belts and dissect this very meaningful text.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

I bear a striking resemblance to Tom Brady.  Photo by Keith Allison

In football parlance, I needed to call an audible in the middle of the game. What I had hoped they would do; they won’t or can’t.  It’s time for me to jump in and scaffold this concept to a place where they can see the connections they can make and I can assess their thinking.  I’m not going to put them in a position to fail on the summative assessment if I know they aren’t ready for it.

In a whole class mode, I read over the text, mark what I notice and verbalize my analysis.

Now I ask them to talk about what they notice.  There it is…an increase in discussion, an inflation in dialogue. The alarm volume turns down a notch, but it doesn’t turn off.

I wrap the class period up with an invitation to write about what moves the author is making and as they do I confer with a few students who seem completely flabbergasted.  The bell tolls, signaling an end to their literary torture session.

 

Thus was the source of my salvation:

book

I only saunter.

Jumping into this book reminded me of a few important tenets of writing instruction that I let myself forget:

  1. Give them choice- I was allowing no choice in the subject of their analysis.  I know better than to restrict their reading and writing experiences and I let my, and their, end of the year exhaustion affect my decision making.
  2. Show them, not tell them, what you want to assess.  I wasn’t showing them examples of literary analysis and again, I know better.  I was expecting, wrongly, that Senior English students would confidently engage in literary analysis and move forward with their thinking in a way that shows me they can write a response in essay form.

After school, I tore up my lessons plans for the next four days and re-wrote them to reflect what I SHOULD do to support my students in this exploration.

On page 5 of their amazing new book Marchetti and O’Dell introduce a mentor text written by Joe Fassler from The Atlantic.  His recurring series “By Heart” is a collection of responses from a diverse group of thinkers and writers and is an amazing resource.  A simple Google search returned a link to this series of essays. I scanned the list of the titles and discovered an article from September titled, “What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon.”   In it, Celeste Ng describes her feelings of the children’s book and how it “informs” her writing.

Perfecto!!!

This checked so many of the boxes of what I was looking for in a mentor text.  And…I get to read a children’s book to “big” kids.  I know enough about my students to know they will love this.

Also, I used Marchetti and O’Dell’s five part descriptions of literary analysis on pages 11 and 12 to create a glue-in anchor chart for their readers’/writers’ notebooks that helped to clarify what exactly we should look for when reading and writing literary analysis.

Confidence restored! Disaster averted… kind of.

We Ng’s reflection and discussed how this was a perfect example of literary analysis.  They asked questions, we laughed about Goodnight Moon.  I saw their confidence grow and I knew we were back on track and ready to move toward our essay.

Thursday, we started the drafts and I hope to see many of them tomorrow.

Being responsive and intentional is a crucial part of the workshop pedagogy.  I can’t stress enough how this one piece can make our break my teaching.  My lesson planning skills have finally reached the point where I plan for and anticipate opportunities to change up what we are doing to match what the students need. This was an opportunity for which I hadn’t planned, but we made the adjustment and made it work.

Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Let me know in the comments below when you’ve had to make big changes on the fly to support your students’ learning. I know I can’t be the only one.

Charles Moore is neck deep in Children of Blood and Bone.  He’s spending the day taking his daughter to school and then having lunch with her.  It might be the best day of his life.  His summer TBR list is growing uncontrollably; feel free to add to it in the comments.

Carpe Disputationem

Before introducing metaphysical poetry to my AP Literature students, I often take a page out of the fictional Professor Keating’s book. My students and I take a little “field trip” to the front of the school, where photographs of students dating back to the first graduating class of 1901 line the foyer. I ask my students to write down their observations. When we return to class, I ask them to share. They often cite racial homogeny right off the bat. Our student population is incredibly diverse, and they cannot imagine an exclusively white school. A discussion about desegregation of schools inevitably follows, as does a conversation about the surprising number of females in the early graduating classes. We also talk about the devastation the World Wars had on the young men in those faded photographs. How many of them survived? They wonder: how did our graduating class grow from 6 to approximately 1100?

After what never fails to be a rich conversation, and the students’ realization that they have walked past those photos everyday without ever looking at them (a life lesson in itself), we watch the film clip from Dead Poets Society in which Keating, played by Robin Williams, engages his students in a similar activity. He explores the concept of “carpe diem” and mortality. Following this clip, I invite my students to write their response to carpe diem. They might write about what it means to them, whether they embrace this philosophy, or any other thoughts or feelings that the saying evokes.

CarpeDiemAfter a few minutes of writing, I ask for volunteers to share their thoughts. In a recent discussion, some students found the idea of carpe diem “frivolous” and thought that people should always stay focused on future goals. To them, “living for today” was short-sighted and irresponsible. This makes sense for teens who are driven to go to the right college and earn the right degree to live a “good” life. Other students said that since none of us are guaranteed a future and we’re “all going to die,” we should do something today: something of value, something productive. Such responses received a great deal of agreement, though students realized that “value” and “productive” are relative, subjective terms. One student wisely noted that we should remember that while we’re trying to live our best lives, others are as well. They discussed the complexities of when the lives of people with different goals intersect. Ultimately, my students saw how their seemingly disparate ideas actually overlapped a great deal, and they separated carpe diem from the trite YOLO idea that many of them initially equated as the same concept.

After a 20-30 minute discussion of carpe diem, my students not only understood the concept, but they also understood their relationship to the aphorism as well as its universal appeal. Onward to metaphysical poetry analysis!

I shared this teaching anecdote to underscore the importance of setting up and maintaining a safe workshop environment in which students expect to read, write, think, share, and work together to construct meaning. My students fearlessly followed me, willing to discuss observations even when issues such as race were broached. I could have presented them with the definition of “carpe diem” or asked them to draw on prior knowledge as a quick basis for launching into the unit of study, but by giving them the space and opportunity to explore the concept, they built a stronger foundation of understanding that will ultimately translate into better reading, writing, and thinking. We make choices everyday about when to lecture and when to facilitate; when possible, we must “seize” the opportunity to trust our students to delve deep beneath surface-level understandings and reach true depths of meaning.

Creating Magic in the Classroom

Disney

My family and I on our last day at Disney World a few weeks ago.

I recently took my family on vacation to the most magical place on earth-Disney World! The days leading up to our travels took a toll on my anxiety, patience, and stress levels. I planned this trip several months in advance and felt prepared to ensure that my family and I were going to have the most amazing time ever, and we did. All of our reservations went off without a hitch, my children behaved beautifully (surprisingly, no meltdowns!), my husband and I worked together as a team, and we had an itinerary that helped us stay on track without feeling pressured to see and do everything. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was truly a magical experience.

After pouring through hundreds of photos and reminiscing on everything we did, I came to a realization. We had a exceptional time not because I made incredible plans (although, it definitely helped!), but because of our environment, trust in each other, ability to let go of things we couldn’t control, and simply enjoying each moment and the time spent together.

That had me thinking. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of a successful workshop classroom? Isn’t that the beauty and magic of why it works?

Trust me, teaching high school English is no walk in a Disney park (pun TOTALLY intended), but it IS an extraordinary experience. Who would have thought that what makes a successful family vacation ALSO translates into the workshop classroom? (You can find amazing resources about why it works here and here, and by exploring the Three Teachers Talk archives.)

Creating and maintaining the spark may seem overwhelming. However, based on the insight I have gained through this recent epiphany after returning from Disney, I want to share with you my top 5 ways to help you create (and continue to foster) magic in your classroom.

5 Ways to Make Your Workshop Classroom Magical:

 

1. Be prepared. It is true, in life we cannot prepare for everything. However, the confidence that is instilled when one feels as prepared as they can should not be overstated. In my classroom, I ease my personal anxiety and that of my students when we have a plan. We have clear expectations and a set plan/goal that helps us stay focused. It seems like a simple solution, but it is quite the task. Ultimately, in order to feel in control (and to provide that for my students, too) I am consistent about the following; 

Class Collage

(L to R) My objectives are written daily. I share a daily agenda on the projector and write the homework for the week on the board. (The colored calendars are the proposed plans for the grading period and are posted to my website as well) 

  • Have an agenda
  • Communicate the goal of each day
  • Inform students of major deadlines in advance
  • Plan for multiple scenarios and/or have a back up plan.

 I also provide calendars, teacher and student samples of work when possible, and an array of mediums in which students can access helpful information. Over the years, I have found this cuts down on having to explain the same items repeatedly and helps students learn accountability.

 

2. Be mindful of the impact of your environment. Ambiance is a huge part of my personal philosophy when creating the climate of my classroom. As a germ-a-phobe, I have bottles of hand sanitizer, tissue, and Lysol wipes readily available. Rarely, if ever, are the fluorescent lights on.  1.) The lights give me headaches and remind me of a doctor’s office, so I chose to use a few floor lamps in my room. 2.) I adore natural lighting, especially with 3 large windows in my room. 3.) The dim lighting helps students feel comfortable, less intimidated, and reduces the noise levels (Trust me, it does!). In addition, I am particular about the quotes and student work on display. I even have carpets and pillows to increase comfort and provide flexible seating. You don’t have to pull out all the stops, especially with teenagers, but it helps to pay attention to the vibe of your tribe.

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3. Trust in your support systems… and your kids. Lean on your admin or campus leadership, colleagues and PLC’s when you can. You never know when YOUR leadership can also serve as the support system for others as well. In my experience, I have learned something from every team and grade level I have been a part of, regardless of personalities or personal opinions. As educators, we are in the business of learning and seizing all teachable moments. This should also apply to our interactions with our colleagues.

One of the prime examples of why the workshop model works is because the focus is on the kids. As with any vacation or event for kids, we MUST keep them first at all times. Kids are kids. Yes, they will have times where it is a struggle to get through each moment, but it is worth it when the light bulbs finally turn on. All of the effort is completely worth it to see the growth and progress they make each day. My students never cease to amaze me with their stories, experiences, and development every year.

4. Prioritize. Part of planning and preparing is also understanding that you might not get to everything. Don’t stress about it, just figure out what your non-negotiables are and start there. Some reflection questions I have to help me in this process are;

  • What do I want my students to learn in this unit?
  • How will I know if they understand it?
  • What do I do if they don’t?
  • What do I do for my students who require extended learning or have special circumstances?

By keeping these in mind, I can quickly determine where we need to go, how we get there, and plan for various ways for my students to master their learning.

5. Enjoy the time together. At the end of the day, we became teachers for a reason. It is imperative that we also strive to keep that passion and excitement alive. Our love for our content and profession is contagious. When you surround yourself with opportunities to appreciate the time you spend cultivating young minds, trusting in the process, and uncovering the joy and value of each moment, that is the true magic of teaching.

I would love to hear about what has worked for you in your classrooms! What are some ways you and your students have been successful throughout your journey?

Gena Mendoza is still reeling from her recent visit to Disney World with her family over Spring Break. She is currently trying to convince her husband to agree to go back as soon as possible. In addition, she teaches High School English in Texas and is grateful for her students who kindly (and patiently) tolerate her latest obsession with all things Disney. She invites you to connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @mrs_mendoza3.

 

Standing, spellbound, among Giants…

So that’s that. I’m almost exactly two years in.

I jumped head first into workshop practice at the start of the fourth grading quarter of the 2016-2017 school year. This was about the same time I asked to try my hand at sponsoring our Student Council on top of coaching football in the fall and soccer in the spring.

I learned I’m a glutton for punishment.

Two years of workshop practice elapsed and I still quake at my lack of knowledge and experience.

I’m still a novice; yet I’m motivated now more than ever before.

Thinking about starting the journey? Look here.  Also, check out this amazing post! This blog contains a wealth of knowledge and when it was introduced to me two years ago, I was smitten.

I think we can all agree that Workshop is both exhilarating and terrifying. It’s kind of like standing in front of one of the largest living organisms on the planet.

Recently, I traveled across California on a site seeing adventure that shared some symbolism with my workshop journey.

As my family and I wound upward in elevation through a mountain forest ten days ago, we started noticing giants. They stood out from the other bits of foliage not just in their massive size, but also in their presence. The sensations reminded me of the amazing teachers I’ve met. Have you ever noticed how some teachers have almost an aura about them? I feel it every day before school, between classes, at meetings or even just walking down the hall.

tree3

Standing among those behemoths was exhilarating. I’m a big guy and these ancient giants made me feel like a tiny speck, a flea at their feet. I’ve never felt so insignificant, small, or helpless. If you haven’t stood next to one, you can’t possibly understand the deep sense of awe, unless you know truly transcendent teachers, as I do.

The same feelings that massive trees evoke pour out of my mind as I reflect on my journey with workshop; which I do often.

Maybe you are like me and sometimes feel overwhelmed by the complicated and time consuming process of delivering workshop style instruction day in and day out.

Many of my peers tell me how much they love this pedagogy, but also remark how much preparation is necessary to be true to what the students need most. They are so right!!!

Despite the struggle.  Despite the time and stress…in me:

bane

So the following ideas are what work best for me:

  1. Engage the professionals around you – I learn more from the professionals around me than I do from anywhere else. Our impromptu hallway discussions are invigorating and refreshing.  Teachers learn best from teachers.

  2. Engage the professionals in your professional library – There exists an avalanche of information for us to access.  Of course Kittle, Gallagher, Romano, Newkirk, Anderson, Atwell and so many others should be studied and reviewed yearly.  There are many new and notable books that I’ve experienced just this year:

  3. Engage the professionals on social media- For so long I was afraid of social media and its potential impact on my professional life.  I felt it was for the kids and better left alone.  Boy was I wrong.  Social media leverages collaboration in a way that nothing else has ever done.  Twitter chats are so much fun to follow, much less participate in.  Check this out.

  4. Engage in reflecting on your own work- Take time to write about your experience.  I’ve found writing about this journey to be cathartic and energizing.  Its more than writing though, its recording my place in this movement.  We are changing the world by advocating for literacy to emerge in the forefront of education.

Charles Moore is currently neck deep in Fates and Furies and is engrossed finding more books for his library. 

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